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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Israel evacuates Palestinians from tent outpost in West Bank

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 06:26 PM PST

E1, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli security forces evacuated about 100 Palestinians early on Sunday from an outpost of tents pitched in an area of the occupied West Bank that Israel has earmarked for a new settlement.

Palestinians, together with Israeli and foreign activists, stand near newly-erected tents in an area known as E1, near Jerusalem January 12, 2013. REUTER/Baz Ratner

Palestinians, together with Israeli and foreign activists, stand near newly-erected tents in an area known as E1, near Jerusalem January 12, 2013. REUTER/Baz Ratner

Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Palestinian outpost, built in the geographically sensitive area known as E1, could remain for six days while the issue of the removal of the tents was being discussed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the meantime, ordered those gathered there to be evacuated. A police spokesman said the court allowed for the removal of the protesters even if the tents, for now, will stay.

Netanyahu's pledge last November to build settlements on E1 caused an outcry, with European diplomats warning it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.

The prime minister's office said in a statement on Saturday that the government was petitioning the court to retract its ruling on the outpost, and had instructed security forces to block off roads leading to the rocky desert terrain.

Hours later, Israeli police and border guard officers entered the compound and told a crowd of about 100 to leave the 20 large, steel-framed tents that were erected a day earlier in an effort to preserve the land for a future Palestinian state.

Those protesters who refused to leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officers, but there was no violence.

"Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The encampment's name, "Bab el Shams," which means "Gateway to the Sun" in Arabic, was taken from a novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury that tells the history of the Palestinians through a love story. Earlier, the writer called the protesters in solidarity.

For years, Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush.

But Netanyahu recently announced plans to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly last year.

International powers view all Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as detrimental to securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

E1 covers 4.6 square miles (12 square km) and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, which is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the rival Islamist group Hamas.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israel's continued settlement building.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

France believes hostage killed in Somalia rescue bid

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 06:21 PM PST

PARIS/MOGADISHU (Reuters) - France sent special forces into Somalia to rescue a secret agent but insurgents apparently killed their hostage during the raid along with a commando, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives for a Defence Council meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives for a Defence Council meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris January 12, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The intelligence agency team flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under cover of darkness to try to free Denis Allex, held since 2009, by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, on the same day France launched air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali.

"Commandos broke into where Allex was being detained last night and immediately faced strong resistance," Le Drian told a news conference.

"Intense combat took place, during which - and now I speak with caution - everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was unfortunately killed by his captors."

Sowing confusion, Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was still alive.

Paris has been concerned that various French hostages held in Africa would be at risk if it intervened militarily against the al Qaeda-allied fighters in Mali, but Le Drian said the Somalia raid was "totally unconnected" to the Mali operation.

The deaths in Somalia coincided with the killing of a pilot in air strikes in Mali, however, striking a double blow to the start of a campaign that represents President Francois Hollande's biggest foreign policy test since his May election.

A French commando died from wounds sustained in the Somali raid and a second was missing, Le Drian said.

The defence ministry said earlier that 17 Somali fighters were killed in a mission prompted by "the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three and half years".

Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was alive and being held at a location far from the base where French military helicopters attacked overnight.

"The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the mujahideen and Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," it said. "Several French soldiers were killed in the battle and many more were injured before they fled from the scene of battle, leaving behind some military paraphernalia and even one of their comrades on the ground."

When asked about whether the missing commando was now in the hands of Al Shabaab, French Army chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said: "If he is alive then he could be, but he could also be hiding."

France has eight nationals in Islamist hands in the Sahel area after a string of kidnappings, and has cited concern over their safety as a reason for its initial reluctance to spearhead any military action against the Islamist rebels in Mali.

A spokesman for Malian insurgents Ansar Dine said France's intervention in the country will put French citizens at risk.

"There are consequences, not only for French hostages, but also for all French citizens wherever they find themselves in the Muslim world," Sanda Ould Boumama told Reuters. "

A French military analyst, Jean-Dominique Merchet, said he doubted the raid had been mounted in coordination with the Mali operation and it appeared to be a case of unfortunate timing.

"The Mali intervention was not planned, it was launched in two days, whereas the other raid had been in the works for a week or two. There is no reason for them to have been coordinated," he said.


Allex was one of two officers from the DGSE intelligence agency kidnapped by al Shabaab in Mogadishu in July 2009. His colleague, Marc Aubriere, escaped a month later but Allex had been held ever since in what Paris called "inhumane conditions".

The ministry said he was kidnapped while carrying out an aid mission with the Somali government. France has previously said the two men were in the Somali capital to train local forces.

A video of Allex pleading with Hollande to negotiate his release and save his life appeared on a website in October used by Islamist militant groups around the world. Reuters could not verify its authenticity.

Hollande said at the time the government was seeking to start talks with any party able to facilitate Allex's release.

After his abduction, al Shabaab issued a series of demands, which included an end to French support for the Somali government and the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers, whose 17,600-strong troops are helping battle the rebels.

Under pressure from the peacekeeping troops and Somali government forces, al Shabaab has lost many of its major urban strongholds in south-central Somalia since it launched a rebellion against the Western-backed government in 2007.

The rebels, who want to impose their strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state, withdrew from the capital Mogadishu in August last year and lost their last major bastion of Kismayu six weeks ago.

A Somali official in Bula Mareer, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Mogadishu, said French helicopters attacked overnight.

"Helicopters attacked al Shabaab at 2.00 a.m. this morning. Two civilians died in the crossfire," Ahmed Omar Mohamed, deputy chairman for lower Shabelle region, told Reuters.

An al Shabaab official who asked not to be named said they exchanged fire with French commandos. "Three helicopters dropped French commandos. We exchanged fire," the official told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu and Leila Abboud and Catherine Bremer in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams and Jason Webb)

Copyright © 2013 Reuters

Pentagon report cites "lack of maturity" of Lockheed F-35 jet

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:22 PM PST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp's's new F-35 fighter jet has completed over a third of its planned flight tests, but it is still facing problems with the helmet needed to fly the plane, software development and weapons integration, according to a report by the Pentagon's chief weapons tester.

A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is seen at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The 18-page report, sent to Congress on Friday, included a detailed account of those issues and others, which it said underscored the "lack of maturity" of the $396 billion weapons program, the Pentagon's most expensive ever.

The program exceeded the number of flight tests and specific system tests planned for 2012 but lagged in some areas due to unresolved problems and newly discovered issues. The program has already completed over 20,000 specific tests of items and capabilities on the plane, but has 39,579 more such tests to go.

The report highlighted the continued growing pains of the ambitious Lockheed fighter program, which began in 2001 and has been restructured three times in recent years to slow down production and allow more progress on the development program.

Lockheed is building three different models of the F-35 fighter jet for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped pay for its development: Britain, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway.

The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 of the warplanes in coming decades, although many analysts believe U.S. budget constraints and deficits will eventually reduce that overall number.

"The lag in accomplishing the intended 2012 flight testing content defers testing to following years, and in the meantime, will contribute to the program delivering less capability in the production aircraft in the near term," said the report prepared by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation.

Gilmore said the program remained saddled by a high level of concurrency or overlap between development, production and testing. The Pentagon planned that overlap from the start, but its top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, last year described that approach as "acquisition malpractice."


The report said the program conducted 1,092 flight tests in 2012, 18 percent more than the 927 flight tests planned, running more tests than scheduled for the Marine Corps B-model and the Navy's C-model or carrier variant.

But it fell short of the flight tests planned for the Air Force's conventional takeoff A-model. That model completed 30 percent less test points than planned due to operating limits on the plane and problems with the weapon bay doors, it said.

It said flight tests were also limited by problems with the air refuelling system, which led to restrictions on all A-model planes and required new instrumentation to isolate the cause.

The plane's stealthy coatings - which make it nearly invisible to enemy radars - were also peeling off on horizontal tail surfaces due to higher-than-expected temperatures during high-speed, high-altitude flights, the report said.

The Marine Corps version of the plane flew more than planned but lagged its target for test points by 49 percent due to issues with the weapon bay doors and an engine lift fan needed for that B-model's vertical landings, the report said.

The lift fan is built by Rolls Royce, a supplier to the engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

The weight of the new plane remained fairly steady over the past year, and the mean time between critical failures increased, but the plane's performance remained below the level expected for this point in the program, the report said.

The report also cited continuing delays with Lockheed's delivery of software for the new fighter, noting that software packages needed to support flight test were delayed or not complete when delivered.

It said the complex helmet that integrates data for the pilot from all the plane's sensors was still facing issues, as is a computerized logistics system.

Weapons integration testing was delayed by a number of factors, including problems with the performance of a radar system and in tracking targets.

Durability testing of the Marine's B-model had to be halted in December after multiple cracks were found on the underside of the plane's fuselage, the report said.

It also cited problems with the ability of the Navy's C-model to transfer video and imagery data to ships, and said one live-fire test revealed a potentially serious problem with the coolant system, which was now being addressed.

More work was also needed on a system aimed at protecting the plane from fuel tank explosions caused by lightning, the report concluded, noting that flight operations were currently banned within 25 miles of known lightning conditions.

No immediate comment was available from Lockheed or the Pentagon's F-35 program office.

Copyright © 2013 Reuters


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China's Li still smarting from Clijsters heartbreak

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 07:34 PM PST

MELBOURNE: Fiery Chinese star Li Na bristled at the mention of the retired Kim Clijsters Sunday and said she was disappointed not to have the chance to avenge her Australian Open losses to the Belgian ace.

Former French Open winner Li, among the leading contenders at Melbourne Park, was foiled by Clijsters in the 2011 final and let slip four match points against her in last year's fourth round, a defeat that left her in tears.

Asked whether she was happy not to have to play Clijsters, who retired last year, again in Melbourne, Li said: "Why should I be happy? I was really looking forward to playing her again.

"I played her last year in the fourth round. I never had a chance to come back, so I'm not happy." She added: "Every time I play against her, it's always a tough match. It's a really good challenge."

The world number six failed to go beyond the fourth round at any of the Grand Slam tournaments last year but she has shown progress under new coach Carlos Rodriguez and started the year by winning in Shenzhen, China.

Li, 30, admitted that she was already feeling the pace after a frenetic start to the year and had been a fixture on the massage table as she prepares for the year's first Grand Slam.

"I've just had two days totally off. Now I'm feeling fresh again. The team was working so hard. Two days ago my body was feeling really, really tired," she said.

"The physio does a very good massage. On the massage table he was really killing me. But now I'm feeling much better, so I'm looking forward to this year for Australia."

She said Rodriguez, former handler of seven-time Grand Slam-winner Justine Henin, had tried to make her feel more relaxed ahead of the first round, where she will play Kazakhstan's Sesil Karatantcheva on Monday.

"I feel more relaxed working with him. He never gives me pressure. He says, 'You never know what will happen on the tennis court, so just try to win the first round. If you can't win the first round, nothing will happen after'." - AFP

I'll knock you off, Hewitt warns Tipsarevic

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 07:32 PM PST

MELBOURNE: A fired-up Lleyton Hewitt Sunday warned his Australian Open first round opponent Janko Tipsarevic that he plans to "knock him off" after showing vintage form to win the Kooyong Classic.

Veteran Hewitt, 31, is bursting with confidence after demolishing Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the warm-up tournament 6-1, 6-4 on Saturday, his third victory over top-15 opposition in the past week.

World number nine Tipsarevic is next in the Australian's line of fire, at a Grand Slam he is playing for a record 17th consecutive time, three more than closest challenger Roger Federer.

And Hewitt has no fear of the Serb, who won the ATP Chennai Open in his preparation for Melbourne.

"I don't care. I'll knock him off, try to take his spot in the draw," said Hewitt, who made the fourth round of the Open last year.

"I look forward to the challenge.

"The last couple matches I've hit the ball as well as I can remember. I feel confident with where my game is at the moment.

"There's still a couple things I got to try to take care of when I'm on the match court.

"But all in all, when my moving comes together and I'm serving well, my returns and obviously passing shots and counter-punching has been pretty good anyways."

The two-time Grand Slam winner's form belies his 81st place ranking and his confidence his sky high after beating Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic as well as Del Potro at Kooyong.

"It's confidence in terms of going out there and matching it with the best players. They've got extremely big weapons. I was able to work around that, sort of open them up out there," he said.

"I felt the way I was able to be aggressive with the bigger, stronger guys, all three matches are three of the biggest hitters out there."

Hewitt's longevity on the tour is matched only by Federer, who is also 31. They have both played in 55 Grand Slams, more than any other current player, although still well short of Fabrice Santoro's 70.

"I've missed a lot more Slams than Rog, too. I started before him," he said. "I've had a few more injuries than Rog and had to come back from a few surgeries, which is pretty tough.

"But to play 17 Australian Opens in a row, main draw in singles, is something not easy to do.

"To be fit, I haven't been 100 percent for all of them, but in terms of the staying power, being able to play through generations, is something I'll look back on and be pretty proud of." - AFP

Armstrong has yet more to lose if he admits doping

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:34 PM PST

WASHINGTON: The cyclist Lance Armstrong could lose much more than his already ravaged reputation if he confesses to doping this week during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey - he could end up in jail.

The disgraced Texan's decision to talk to the famed US talk show host has divided opinion, as some say he needs to do something radical to rehabilitate his public profile, while others say speaking out will only make matters once.

The crux of the matter is whether Armstrong, having been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, will finally admit that he was a drugs cheat. Such a confession would overturn more than a decade of strenuous denials.

"If I were his lawyer, I'd be telling him not to do it. I think he's crazy," said Peter Keane, law professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, of the cyclist's decision to give the interview, which will be aired Thursday.

"He's in considerable jeopardy of some sort of criminal prosecution... for which he could go to prison," Keane said.

The threats to Armstrong's liberty stem from the fallen icon's role in the US Postal Service team, where he spent his most successful years in the saddle.

Having been paid by the government, the former team leader could face criminal charges for making fraudulent statements to his bosses.

He could also be accused of perjury over disclosures made under oath to a US federal jury in 2005. If convicted, each false statement could lead to five years in jail.

Armstrong has always maintained that he did not use banned substances during his stellar career, but in August last year he chose not to contest charges put forward by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that he was a serial drugs cheat.

The pitfalls of speaking to Winfrey, considered the favored TV forum for "tell all" confessional style interviews, appear to have been weighed, and a decision taken that it is worthwhile to reveal something new.

"I'm anticipating a major announcement," said Jordan Kobritz, chair of the State University of New York at Cortland's International Sport Management graduate program, noting that Armstrong would otherwise have no reason to talk.

"You don't have to go on Oprah to do what he's been doing in his entire athletic life, and that is deny, deny and deny that he ever engaged in illegal drugs," Kobritz said, agreeing with Keane that perjury and criminal charges are possible.

One possibility is that justice officials in California will re-open a file they closed last year concerning alleged drug use and misuse of funds when Armstrong was with the US Postal Service team.

Another case that could come back to haunt the cyclist is an arbitration hearing in Dallas in 2005 where he said under oath that he had never taken banned substances, a statement which raises the specter of perjury charges.

But Armstrong's profile, albeit diminished, as a cancer survivor who raised awareness and hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease, is likely the chip that could spare him the worst possible outcome.

"Regardless of whether he comes out and makes a flat admission, I guarantee there will still be a majority of US citizens who will say 'I don't care what he did, he's still my hero,'" Kobritz said, citing Armstrong's cancer survival.

"Unless there's a prosecutor who wants to stake his reputation and his future political career," on putting Armstrong in the dock, "I suspect they're going to leave him alone," Kobritz added.

But Michael McCann, director of the sports law institute at Vermont Law School, said there could be an upside to speaking out, if not immediately then in the mid-term, even if that means going to jail beforehand for perjury.

"It wouldn't be five years, but it could be six months, any amount of time would be pretty bad," he said.

But there could be "a sense of coming clean, having a cleaner conscience... public forgiveness, and relief maybe," added McCann, who is soon to head up a new sports and entertainment law institute at the University of New Hampshire. - AFP


The Star Online: Business

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MARC assigns rating to Malakoff’s RM5.9b Islamic debt issuances

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:17 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Rating Corporation (MARC) assigned long-term and short-term programme ratings of AA-IS and MARC-1IS respectively to Malakoff Power Bhd's RM5.6bil Murabahah Securities Facility and RM300mil Islamic commercial paper (ICP) programme.

MARC said on Saturday the outlook on the ratings for the Sukuk Murabahah facility was stable.

MPower is a unit of Malakoff Corporation Bhd which has effective power generating capacity of 5,020 megawatt (MW) in the country.

MPower will acquire the power plant operation and maintenance (O&M) business of Malakoff and loan stocks in four independent power producers (IPPs) in which Malakoff has ownership interests ranging from 75% to 100% for RM4.17bil. The consideration of this sale will be funded by the issuance of the rated Sukuk Murabahah Facility. The balance of the sukuk proceeds amounting to RM1.23bil will be on-lent to Malakoff. Subsequent to this issuance, all of the holding company's senior debt will be retired.

The four IPPs, Tanjung Bin Power Sdn Bhd (TBP), Segari Energy Ventures Sdn Bhd (SEV), GB3 Sdn Bhd (GB3) and Prai Power Sdn Bhd (PPSB), respectively hold the concessions for the 2,100MW Tanjung Bin coal-fired power plant, the 1,303MW combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) Lumut power plant, the 640MW CCGT Lumut GB3 power plant and the 350MW CCGT Prai power plant.

MARC said the assigned ratings to MPower reflected the low business risk profile of MPower's operation and maintenance (O&M) operating subsidiaries, and the power plant portfolio which provides the majority of underlying cash flows that will service the Sukuk.

Another factor was the good operational performance of the power plant portfolio and its predictable stable cash flow generation.

MARC also pointed the base case minimum and average projected finance service coverage ratios (FSCR) of 1.04 times and 4.15 times at MPower and combined minimum and average projected debt FSCRs of 1.38 times and 10.31 times respectively, excluding Malakoff's operating subsidiaries.

The rating agency also said there was low payment deferral risk on the RM1.89bil of loan stocks held by MPower in SEV, GB3 and PPSB which have fairly low levels of outstanding project debt.

"The stable outlook reflects the power plant portfolio's long-term power purchase agreements (PPA) with a strong offtaker and dispatch profiles that are supportive to the issuer's credit profile and which provide stability in project-level cash flow generation.

"MARC also assumes that any additional sizeable investment to expand Malakoff's power plant portfolio will be followed or preceded by a strengthening of its capitalisation to ensure no material weakening of its financial profile unless the acquisition or investment is immediately accretive to its discretionary cash flow.

"The ratings or outlook could come under negative pressure if combined cash flow coverage declines below 1.30 times over the next 12 to 18 months or if Malakoff's financial profile deteriorates," said the rating agency.

Moody’s assigns A3 to Sime Darby, outlook stable

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:05 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Moody's Investors Service has assigned a senior unsecured issuer rating of A3 to Sime Darby Bhd while the outlook for the rating is stable.

The international ratings agency said on Saturday this was the first time it has assigned a rating to the conglomerate.

"Sime Darby's rating recognises the strong cash flow generated by its core oil palm plantation business which has long-established operations in Malaysia and Indonesia," it said.

Moody's said the remaining 45% to 50% of EBIT was mainly from its industrial business and motor business.

Its industrial business involves supplying heavy equipment to the coal mining and construction sectors, with a focus on Australasia and China.

Its motors business comprises of a car assembly, distribution and dealerships with a focus on high end cars in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

"Sime Darby is the largest listed palm oil plantation company and it is well-balanced in terms of upstream output and downstream refining and oleochemical capacity and its crop yields are among the best in the industry," said Moody's vice president - senior credit officer Alan Greene.

"Relative to other agribusinesses, the credit profile of palm oil is attractive given its position as the lowest cost vegetable oil, its high resistance to pests and diseases and the relative consistency of output over a period of 10 to 15 years once the trees reach maturity," said Greene, Moody's lead analyst for Sime Darby.

Sime Darby's diversification of revenues by geography is well-balanced with Malaysia, Australasia and China accounting for 69% of FY2012 revenues. While the customer concentration of Sime Darby's businesses is low, its industrial division and its motors division depend on maintaining their supply relationships with Caterpillar and BMW, respectively.

By contrast, both the sources of Sime Darby's EBIT and the disposition of its non-current assets (NCA) are geographically skewed, with Malaysian-based operations representing 56% and 59% of total EBIT and NCA, respectively in FY 2012.

The company's importance to Malaysia is also reflected in its current shareholding pattern which includes government linked investment companies. As at Dec 31, 2012, Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) held a 52.3% stake and by the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) 11.9%. Although Moody's does not regard Sime Darby as a government-related issuer (GRI), it deems systemic support from Sime Darby's key shareholders to be strong and the rating reflects the importance of Sime Darby to the Malaysian economy and its savings programmes.

Analysis: Big flows into U.S. stocks may be sign of things to come

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 04:51 AM PST

NEW YORK: The biggest weekly inflow into U.S.-based equities mutual funds in more than 11 years could be a sign that stocks are coming back into favor for a broad swath of investors after lawmakers avoided the fiscal cliff, some top money managers said.

"We are at an inflection point where, especially in the U.S., you'll start to see net inflows into equities," said Margaret Patel, senior portfolio manager at Wells Capital Management, which oversees $331 billion in assets. "The risk-taker will be rewarded this year."

In the week ended Wednesday, investors in U.S.-based funds poured $7.53 billion into stock mutual funds while exchange-traded funds investing in equities gained $10.78 billion in new cash, according to data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service.

The inflow into U.S. stock mutual funds was the biggest since May 2001, and the $18.32 billion aggregate injection of money into equities funds was the biggest since mid-2008.

Separately, EPFR estimated that net inflows into global equity funds, including ETFs, in the same week hit $22.2 billion - the highest since September 2007 and the second highest since comparable data began in 1996.

Since the U.S. Congress agreed on tax hikes for the higher paid and averted the fiscal cliff on January 1, the S&P 500 stock index has climbed more than 3 percent. Last year, including dividends, it returned about 16 percent.


An increasing appetite for U.S. equities is seen by major investors as a sign of rising confidence in the U.S. economy but also an indication of how few appealing alternatives there are given that money market funds yield virtually nothing and bond yields have sunk.

Some brokerage executives are less convinced than the fund managers that sentiment has changed as they point to continued distrust among retail investors about the stock market and whether the odds are stacked against them. Many of these mom-and-pop investors are also very concerned about the impact of further battles in Washington over the debt ceiling and spending cuts.

Still, the fund managers, particularly fixed-income investors, have warned that the gains in bond prices in recent years cannot go on forever. Junk bonds and corporate debt "which we felt good about a year ago... we now feel OK about," said Tad Rivelle, chief investment officer of fixed income at money manager TCW, where he helps oversee $135 billion in assets.

The average yield on U.S. high-yield "junk" debt fell below 6 percent this week for the first time ever, according to the Barclays Capital High Yield bond index.

Loomis Sayles & Co Vice-Chairman Dan Fuss, one of the best-known bond fund managers in the world with $182 billion in assets under management, has been raising warning flags that an extended period of rising interest rates is on the horizon and bond investors should adjust their portfolios while they can. "U.S. stocks are the place to be relative to U.S. bonds, in general," Fuss said.

On January 1, after weeks of uncertainty and fears that the U.S. was going to be hit by big spending cuts and tax rises that would have sent the economy over the "fiscal cliff" and probably into a recession, President Barack Obama and Congress reached a deal that averted the most draconian of the measures. Most of the tax increases only hit the highest income Americans and spending cuts were postponed.

Patel said "relief" that taxes on capital gains and dividends didn't go up across the board encouraged many investors to put money back to work in stock mutual funds.

Retail investors may have an "aha" moment if they contrast 2012's equity returns against much weaker returns from money-market, municipal bond and other fixed-income holdings, said Barbara Reinhard, chief investment strategist in the private banking Americas division of Credit Suisse AG.

"It may give them confidence that the equity market is the place to go back to for wealth creation and capital appreciation," she said. "You might see a rotation attempting to catch up on the misses of 2012."


In a report sent to some Credit Suisse advisers and clients this week, however, Patel acknowledged that many investors are more affected by the memory of losses than the hope of gains.

"Investors in this group, still reeling from the devastating equity market action during the financial crisis, remain very reluctant to invest in equities," she wrote.

Equally concerning is a tendency to believe that the fixed-income returns that sustained investors during the crisis can continue despite a more stable economy and declining bond returns, some brokerage executives said.

"At some point you have to think they will see stocks have been awfully good and there is no other game in town, but I said that last year, too," lamented Arthur Grant, chief executive of Cadaret Grant & Co, a Syracuse, New York-based broker-dealer that employs about 1,000 contract brokers.

He said he doubted that the past week was the turning point. "It's hard for me to imagine that a single week would make that much of a difference in people's concerns," he said. "They're incredibly concerned about the debt limit and getting our fiscal affairs in order, and it's much stronger than fiscal cliff fears because they knew that one way or another their taxes were going up."

While the higher paid got hit with substantial tax increases, many people are facing a more modest increase - through higher payroll taxes.

Fractious debates in Washington over raising the U.S. government's debt ceiling and cutting government spending raise fears of a U.S. government debt default that could throw global markets into frenzy, brokerage executives said.

"There is a lot of money sitting around in risk-free assets that can go into equities, and I think retail investors are getting more bullish," said Fred Tomczyk, chief executive of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, the second largest discount brokerage. "The risk is that they will screw up in Washington."

In the latest week to January 9, investors still sought riskier bonds and pumped $1.11 billion into high-yield "junk" bond funds, the most since mid-September, according to Lipper. Investors also gave $2.16 billion to investment-grade corporate bond funds, while taking $1.07 billion out of U.S. Treasury funds, the most since October of last year.

EPFR's latest weekly figures showed a net $7.39 billion inflow into emerging market equity funds and $3.4 billion into world equity funds. Inflows into U.S. equity funds, at $10.35 billion, were at a six-week high. - Reuters


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Review: One Day, Three Autumns

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 05:03 AM PST

One Day, Three Autumns
Author: Liew Suet Fun
Publisher: Liew Suet Fun, 207 pages

SOMETIMES a book stands out not because it reflects the mood of the moment but because it doesn't. Liew Suet Fun's One Day, Three Autumns is just such a book.

It's not the usual tome favoured in this fair land of ours – neither an idiot's-guide-to-what-have-you, nor a bunch of articles reincarnating as a book, nor an angry political pronouncement.

Nope, none of the above. (The divine be praised.)

Instead, here's what the book's proposes: that we set aside – for a while at least – the chatter and clatter of the world at large and turn our attention to the everyday things which surround us but which we too often fail to see, like your pet and its antics, that prized teapot, the very act of baking a loaf, or the sound and fury of a thunderstorm.

One Day, Three Autumns is an invitation to meditate on the things that we take for granted; not so much an admonishment that one is missing the forest for the trees as it is a reminder, if you will, to pay heed to such things as the insects and the birds, the quality of the air, the way the light is diffused by the canopy in that metaphorical wilderness.

In short: to be in the moment.

And why not, considering we are so caught up with the rat race, the political debate, the latest and greatest from the grapevine and the marketplace, our minds going round and round like a dog chasing its own tail, in that never-ending quest for something, we don't quite know what, in this "wired" world of ours.

Gratification instant, contentment never. Loop the loop.

The book flits randomly from topic to topic as Liew writes – in a tone that's personal and yet detached – of the enchantment of the mundane and the everyday, the nothings and everything. Essentially, hers is a journey inwards, of settling down to a long conversation with the self.

To take up this book, then, is to embrace silence and stillness, out of whose deep and vast expanse the memories of years gone by come flooding back, and inanimate objects take on life, and fleeting moments are frozen in time. It's a kind of magic, is it not, when words are infused with imagination?

There is melancholy and yearning and nostalgia, but most of all there's that keen sense of appreciation for the here and now, for the mysteries and delight that await discovery in the people and places and objects all around us, if only we would still our ever-spinning mind and see.

A song sung by a crew of Indonesian workmen, for instance, gives rise to thoughts on homesickness and the plight of the immigrant. An old Chinese tune conjures up in the mind of the writer a person not quite her, someone at once familiar and mysterious. Inanimate objects speak to her: the old metal trunk and its to-be-guessed-at story; the old teapot rich with history; a loaf of bread and its evocations and promises.

Such rich tapestry to be weaved from such simple pleasures ...

Liew's prose is measured and lyrical, sometimes plain and profound ("How we all begin, and how we all end. And in between, our brief lives."), sometimes soaring and beautiful in its cadence (as in The Things I Love, which begins thus: "Love. It's a big word. It means more than like. It means your heart above your head. And your head over heels.")

City folk will chuckle at her piece on the inexplicable act of cutting down shade trees for some exotic species of palm or other, where she wonders if this March of Man were not so "someone can ride a red-hot open top convertible down this boulevard of dreams."

Occasionally, though, the writing stumbles on errant commas, a wrong word ("My mother would bode no sulky ... expression" – "brook" would the proper word), or one word too many. A more thorough editor would have helped smooth out such creases, but at the end of the day, these are mere quibbles.

All in all, One Day, Three Autumns is an enjoyable little book that marches to its own beat while speaking in an unmistakably Malaysian voice, casual and yet deep-rooted, as it should be.

One Day, Three Autumns author Liew Suet Fun will read excerpts from the book, share brief insights on each piece, and answer questions at 11am on Jan 19 at the Good Friends Cafe (G-G-8 Block G, Jalan PJU 1A/20E, Dataran Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya). Entrance is free but, as seating is limited to 30, please book your seat by Tuesday by sending an e-mail to or calling/texting her at 012-239 5569.

Review: Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 05:03 AM PST

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: William Morrow, 326 pages

NOVELIST Neal Stephenson starts his introduction to Some Remarks by saying that certain publishing types have assured him that he has "reached the stage in my life and career" to release a collection of shorter works.

While he is probably being droll in his usual self-depreciating way, this may well explain why Some Remarks is a hodge podge of all manner of things. Aside from essays, long-form journalistic pieces, and fictional works, there is a college lecture, an interview with Slashdot readers ( is a website based on and running the Slashdot-Like Automated Story-Telling Homepage software) and even a foreword written for a book by the late David Foster Wallace.

The only thing that prevents the collection from being completely schizophrenic is Stephenson's passion for all things geeky that shines through his writing.

Those familiar with his novels will know that Stephenson takes great pains to explain things to his readers.

Since his speculative fiction tends to deal with highly technical (cryptography) and sometimes obscure subjects (Sumerian mythology), the explanatory passages do not intrude into the narrative but rather, move things along.

In shorter non-fiction writing, however, it appears that Stephenson cannot move far beyond just explaining things.

That is not to say that he does not have some astute observations bouncing about, or that he writes poorly.

Metaphysics In The Royal Society 1715 – 2010, for instance, is a surprisingly readable account of the history of the rivalry between mathematicians Gottfried Leibniz and Issac Newton; despite the jargon, you find yourself engaged in the piece if only to share the writer's excitement.

The pièce de résistance of the collection is Mother Earth, Mother Board – something that the Some Remarks editors must have realised as well since it easily takes up a third of the book.

Originally written for Wired magazine in 1996, the essay is an enormous travelogue about the setting up of transoceanic cables. Or more specifically, the privately-funded FLAG (Fibre-optic Link Around the Globe) project involving a 28,000 km-long submarine communications cable literally stretching out across the world.

While the subject matter would glaze most people's eyes over, Stephenson manages to make the geekery involved both accessible and riveting. Aside from explaining the technical details of what these cables are and why we should take an interest in them, he also weaves in the human drama involved.

As Wired published some fantastic photographs to accompany the initial report, it was a bit disappointing to not have them included in this collection.

For the most part, however, many of the essays feel like they had just been plucked out of an intelligent person's notebook – random interesting ideas that are smashed together in a forced narrative and that do not really go anywhere.

A case in point is the opening essay, Arsebestos, in which Stephenson argues that sitting at office desks the whole day may spell a certain doom for us all.

From his own chiropractic problems, to using Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to illustrate that class division literally translates into your ability to walk around, Stephenson veers off into so many points that it becomes quite a chore to locate the point of it all.

If you are a huge fan of Stephenson, or want a primer on his ideas, then this collection is for you. For more depth, however, his fictional works may be more on the money.

In Mother Earth, Mother Board, Stephenson describes his approach to writing the piece as such: "Our method was not exactly journalism nor tourism in the normal sense but what might be thought of as a new field of human endeavour called hacker tourism: travel to exotic locations in search of sights and sensations that only would be of interest to a geek."

Reading Some Remarks feels a bit like being a hacker tourist visiting Stephenson's thought process – the problem is that you barely feel grounded enough in his ideas to go past being just another tourist.

Review: How I Killed Margaret Thatcher

Posted: 13 Jan 2013 05:02 AM PST

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher
Author: Anthony Cartwright
Publisher: Tindal Street Press, 247 pages

JUDAS Iscariot's here, look. Here comes Judas Iscariot."

Growing up in a close-knit working class family in the industrial Midlands of England, nine-year-old Sean Bull knows nothing of family feuds – until the day Margaret Thatcher comes to power as Britain's first female prime minister and Sean's grandfather finds out that a member of the family had voted for her, the Judas Iscariot of the .

On the surface Anthony Cartwright's novel deals with the consequences of the betrayal of a family's long-standing political leanings, the underlying story is about the effect the Thatcherite government had on the lives of a large percentage of the British population. The novel serves as a reminder that before the rise of globalisation and the ubiquity of cheap consumer goods from China, Britain was a manufacturing nation.

It is at the tail end of the British manufacturing boom in the industrial Midlands town of Dudley that How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is set.

Sean's family – his parents, grandparents and traitorous Uncle Eric – all come from a long line of factory workers, making things with the "Made In England" stamp that are sold domestically and exported internationally.

When Thatcher comes to power, the eventual closure of factories and the start of the high rate of unemployment for factory workers is just the beginning of the end for the Bull family.

Typical of the era and class system, working class men go to work while their wives stay at home to look after the family. It is no different for the Bull family. Dependent on the earning power of one person to maintain a growing family and provide occasional assistance to the grandparents, the Bull family finds that money is always tight.

Sean doesn't fully understand the problems until he overhears his parents talking about the lack of money and the possibility that his dad's job in the factory could be on the line. It is not long after this "adult talk" that Sean learns that his Uncle Eric is not the only political traitor in the family; someone else in his family may have also voted for Mrs Thatcher.

As the novel progresses, economical, financial and political matters begin to affect the Bull family, and Sean, trying to comprehend the changing political and economical landscape around him, develops a very personal hatred of Margaret Thatcher.

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is told from Sean's point of view, and Cartwright does a good job of employing an element of naïve innocence. For instance, he hones Sean's comprehension of the political and economical world around him down to simple logic: if Sean's dad loses his job, it is because of Margaret Thatcher, and if his dad loses his job, Sean will not be able to get the next cool thing that makes its way around the school yard, and this would definitely be the fault of Margaret Thatcher.

Thus, as the novel progresses so too does Sean's hatred for Margaret Thatcher. His hatred grows to the point that he becomes determined to do as the title of the novel suggests: kill Margaret Thatcher.

While the title is admittedly eye catching, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher has nothing to do with an actual assassination attempt on the Iron lady. Rather, it is Cartwright's rant about and point of view (disguised as that of his nine-year-old protagonist) of the Thatcherite era and its effects on Britain's working class population.

The novel is shot through with pieces of local history, familial love and touching childhood moments, held together with steel rivets of righteous anger forged in the ailing factories of the Midlands. The insight this book contains makes it both an exceedingly enjoyable work of fiction and an interesting take on recent British social history; through it Cartwright explains Thatcher's role in shaping many of the social problems of today, and puts the lie to many right-wing assumptions of working class laziness that still persist.

Despite its political leanings, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher can be described as a social commentary on the state of Britain (and perhaps the world) today.

Though the manner in which Cartwright presents his novel may not be appealing to everyone (there's no proper intonation for dialogue, and the bulk of the novel belongs to Sean's internal monologue), How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is an easier novel to read than Cartwright's previous offerings, Heartland and The Afterglow.

Margaret Thatcher is still not the easiest book to get into but for those who enjoy their novels with a socialist and political slant, this would make for interesting reading.


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Wrong picture used

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 03:30 PM PST

Sunday January 13, 2013

In our article "Charities prefer cash" last Sunday, we wrongly used the photograph of Patricia Tan with a quote by Patricia Eng (pic).

We wish to apologise to both parties.

Issue of hovering parents

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 03:26 PM PST

Sunday Star readers share their thoughts on hovering parents.

THE issue of hovering parents or "helicopter parents" who micromanage their children's lives in Sunday Star's "When parents go too far" struck a chord with some readers.

It reminded Patrick of the experience of his friend who works in the personnel department of a multinational corporation.

"She received a call from a mother telling her that her daughter is a great student and usually gets good results in examinations. She wanted the company to set aside a scholarship for her daughter after she completed her STPM. Can you imagine that?" he says.

The most amazing part of this kisah benar (true story), he adds, is that the said daughter will only complete her STPM in four years' time. Nevertheless, he gives the mother credit for doing her research before contacting the company.

"She wants the company to give a scholarship for her daughter to study in the country where the company is headquartered."

The mother is very adamant, but it is also her brand of doggedness that creates problems for employers, he opines.

"These are the people who will not hesitate to complain to the managing director if you give her the wrong answer or tell her that reserving a scholarship now for her daughter cannot be done."

Another reader, Ng Kok Hong, takes a different stand.

Pointing out that we are living in a very intense era, he argues: "Is there anything wrong with parents guiding their children in this competitive world? In the 1940s, even a man who started by tapping rubber can become a millionaire, (but now) if a parent shows no guidance like a helicopter, then they must be stupid as this young generation needs guidance and not wild freedom."

Jules Tan wrote in to say that she suddenly had an enormous urge to hug her parents and thank both of them after reading the report on the perils of helicopter parenting.

"I am so glad that my parents were not involved in my career selection whatsoever," she says.

Tan reminisces on when she first joined the job market. "I got my first resume template just before I graduated from a US university and I used it as a guide to build a resume of my own. Of course, I was unsure if the resume was good enough for a potential employer to call me up for an interview. It is even scarier to go for job interviews as a fresh graduate but I have come thus far. So, I guess it works."

The only help she got from her parents, she says, was their words of encouragement.

"They share their "never give up" attitude tips and their invaluable working experience of ups and downs. They made me think that if they can do it, so can I. And so I ventured into the unknown working world 13 years ago. Looking back, I am so glad that they actually turned me into an independent person, so that I can stand on my own two feet to face the working world."

One thing for sure is that Tan will not run home crying to her parents if her work does not go her way.

"(It's) because I have been equipped with problem-solving skills from the very beginning of my working life through my parents. I dare say they have gotten back their investment on my education!" she quips.

Facebook friends of The Star's secondary school rag sheet stuff@school did not hesitate to share their experience with their parents.

Darren Koh, 17, proudly declares that his parents are definitely not helicopter parents.

"My parents are the less worry' type; they expect me to make wise decisions and be responsible for my actions. They never push me in my studies; thus, I have an expectation for myself to get great results to make them proud."

Still, he concedes that there are times when young people would need their parents' "interference".

"In life, there are certain problems that only a father or a mother can solve. So in times, we do need them. But to help out in every aspect in our life is a big NO. How do you expect your child to grow up if you keep shielding them and do not gave them a chance to defend themselves," he adds, opining that 13 is the ideal age for parents to let go of their children as by then, they would be mature enough.

Eighteen-year-old Vivien Tang's parents also expect her to be independent.

"My parents expect me to be able to speak for myself and solve my own problems. When there are conflicts in school, or when I am stressed out over particular problems, they will give me advice but ultimately leave me to decide on my own course of action. They are slightly more protective than my friends' parents, but that's okay with me."

She is thankful that her parents have always been vigilant and strict with her. But she adds, "Everyone needs their own breathing space. Letting go means total independence I want to be sure that I won't die immediately when I'm let loose."

Her twin sister Jesline Tang says she is the opposite. "I'm quite often reprimanded for not being independent enough, something I hope to improve on soon.

"Having them watch over as a guardian angel is good but ultimately this is my life. If I make mistakes by following my heart, there is nothing wrong. I will need to bear the consequences."

Jesline feels that the right age for parents to let go of their children is "whatever age the child begins to show independence and a certain level of maturity".

A teen who only wants to be known as Turtle Yuki-san believes her parents do have some "helicopter" tendencies.

"Especially when it comes to me hanging out with friends. Be it a movie in the cinema or casual window shopping, my parents will stay in the same mall and call from time to time to see if I'm okay."

While she is not overwhelmed by their concern, she feels that their "vigilance" should depend on the time and situation.

"Not 24/7 everywhere. I don't need a mascot with me (singing) I will follow you' ... no thanks."

She hopes that by the time she is 18, her parents will let her go out with friends when she asks for their permission.

"Even though I'm 17 now, I still can't go out with my buddies like others, not even for studying purposes. Visiting a friend's home is only allowed if my parents know their parents and decide they're good! It's pretty stressful."

Related Stories:
Three (and more) is a crowd

Three (and more) is a crowd

Posted: 12 Jan 2013 03:26 PM PST

With growing fear of crime, employers say they do not mind candidates bringing a companion to job interviews, but not an entourage or agent'.

A 22-year-old fresh graduate could not believe it when she received an e-mail last September offering her RM400 a day for a sales promoter job she had applied for through a website. She was asked to attend an interview at a hotel if she was interested. When she got there, however, instead of getting hired, the first-time job applicant got raped and robbed.

This is not the first case either. The police revealed that just a month earlier, another fresh graduate fell prey to a similar scam.

With crime like this posing a threat to young people, albeit isolated, it is no surprise that parents are starting to tag along to their children's job interviews.

According to a recent survey by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) on parental involvement in the recruiting process, some 28 companies out of 201 interviewed said they have had parents attend job interviews with the applicants.

While it is not yet a common practice most employers say they have heard of it happening but have not experienced it parenting trends indicate that it might be a growing phenomenon.

This is the reality today, opines Serm Teck Choon, head of MyStarJob Network Sdn Bhd, which runs The Star's career portal

Our children are growing up in a different environment, so many are sheltered, says Serm.

"In the past, we can just take a bus even from outside town to attend a job interview. Society has changed. Now, it may not be as safe as before, that is why there is a tendency for parents to go for interviews with their children," he says.

He admits that his experience as a parent makes him empathise with them.

"I have often wondered if these parents took leave from their own workplace to accompany their children, or if I would do the same for my child in the future."

Serm believes it is not fair for employers to judge the candidates straight away (when they see them with their parents in the reception area).

What is more important is their ability for the post applied, he stresses,

"It will have to go down to their performance during the interview, as well as their qualifications and training. Internship experience gives a glimpse of your ability and interest. When it comes to the crunch, that can be the deciding factor of whether you get hired over another candidate with the same qualifications as you."

Supratechnic (M) Sdn Bhd human resource manager Sue Lim agrees that employers should not be prejudiced against parents tagging along with their children at job interviews. However, they should not overrun the prospective employer's office.

"I don't blame them, mainly because there are too many social problems faced by the community now like rape and snatch thieves. They (parents) still can come with the children but just wait inside the car outside the company's compound!" she says.

For Melissa Norman, managing director (Singapore and Malaysia) at recruitment consultancy Kelly Services, it is an issue that needs to be tolerated as the "tag alongs" have become a common sight at their offices nationwide.

"From our daily experiences conducting interviews at Kelly Services' 14 branches nationwide, there are many candidates who come to our office accompanied by their parents, family members or friends."

Fortunately, in most cases, the people who accompany the interviewee do not disrupt or interfere in the interview process, says Norman.

She points out that when parents or friends who accompany the candidate interrupt or respond on behalf of the candidate, it reflects poorly on the candidate that he/she is someone who is not capable of making decisions, cannot communicate well, is not able to work independently and relies on the opinions and thoughts of others too much.

There are, however, cases of candidates getting the help and advice of their parents or companion to fill up their registration forms for the interview, she notes.

"There are also those who would ask the interviewer (after the interview) how soon the candidate would receive a reply on being selected for the job."

While Norman does not mind candidates turning up with their parents at their office, she takes issue if he or she comes for the job interview with an "entourage".

"Attending the interview accompanied by someone is acceptable but it should be limited to only one person," she stresses.

The visibility of the group will not help the prospective employee anyway, she highlights: it will create prejudice against the candidate, particularly if the friends or family members misbehave.

As Norman puts it, the employer will try to get an insight of the candidate's lifestyle, behaviour and attitude based on the people he or she mixes with.

Worse, she cautions, is if the group is noisy while waiting for the candidate. "This will not augur well for the candidate."

People who accompany the candidate for interviews should sit quietly at the reception area and wait patiently as interviews can be lengthy at times due to some testing of skills or profiling test required during the interview process.

Speaking loudly on mobile phones, complaining about the interview process being too long, asking to be involved or to be seated at the interview room is not acceptable attitude, says Norman.

A marketing manager at a lifestyle media company who declines to be named agrees, sharing her experience when her office reception area was transformed into a noisy pot lepak (hangout spot) during an internship interview.

The candidate, a college student, brought along his posse of friends because "he needed a ride to the office", she tells.

"They were chatting and laughing loudly, as if they were in a caf They had no respect for the workplace. It really annoyed me."

The student, not surprisingly, did not get the internship.

Code of practice

Serm stresses that parents or anyone else who want to accompany a candidate to a job interview need to abide by a few "rules".

"Parents, especially, have to control themselves. They cannot interfere in the interview process."

To Serm, the biggest misdeed that any parent can ever commit for their children is "try to sit in the interview".

A human resource manager who only wants to be known as DD concurs.

"You would think these candidates are stars with the parents acting like their talent agents, controlling them and dictating terms if we want to hire them. One parent not only tried to barge into the interview room, she even wanted to interview me to see if I was a suitable employer!"

Hussain Ally, project manager at Mydin Mohamed Holdings Berhad, also believes strongly that the interview room should be off-limits to parents.

"If parents sit in with their children during the interview, we will get the impression that the candidates lack confidence and are not independent.

"Would we want employees who lack self-confidence to even attend a job interview on his or her own? Sometimes it is the candidate who chooses to hide behind their parents, passively encouraging them to interfere in the interview."

He feels that once a parent is given too much say at the initial stage, which is the interview stage, they will not stop from "getting involved" even after their children are hired.

"We have had parents who get extremely upset to see their university graduate son arranging songkok during Raya, or carrying things and working late.

"They say: I sent you to university not to arrange songkok!' or She is supposed to do office work!' I don't want my son to work late' but we are in retail, so we need to do the inventory and work overtime sometimes."

Hence, setting the ground rules at the interview stage will help employers later, says Hussain.

Sinsee Ho, senior consulting manager with Agensi Pekerjaan Jobsmart Sdn Bhd which runs job portal Allyhunt, has blogged about turn-offs in the job search and bringing parents is one of them.

"I understand parents want to be supportive as applicants, especially fresh graduates, might be nervous attending their first interviews. But it's a big turn-off in the job search. So don't do it.

"The message sent to recruiters or employers is that you are not independent and if you can't attend an interview on your own, how can you possibly be given a job to do?"

What parents can do, she adds, is to help applicants by providing some relevant advice before the interview.

"If they are professionals themselves, they can help by doing some role-playing or going through some common job interview questions at home with their children to prepare them. At the end of the day, preparation is the key and if the applicants have done the necessary preparation, they will do well. But bringing their parents along won't get them the job."

A spokesperson for construction and engineering company Rotary Mec (M) Sdn Bhd is also of the opinion that parents can only tag along to a job interview for security reason or to get more information on the company and the working location.

Even as a concerned parent, the spokesperson who declines to be named believes that attending job interviews together is not acceptable.

"The impression (it gives) is that the applicant is either a dependent person or mentally unsound to allow his or her parent to sit in the interview. Such a person will not be able to contribute much to the company as he or she has been spoonfed and living under the influence of his or her parents," he says.

More beneficial, he adds, is for parents to "coach" from the sidelines.

They can support their children by not getting involved directly in the recruitment process, "so that the children can utilise their intelligence and discrimination to decide".

MEF executive director Shamsuddin Bardan gives assurance that while the risk of fly-by-night operations or other scams do exist, it is on a very negligible scale compared with the number of legally established employers.

"The risk can be mitigated if applicants do some background search on the employer before attending interviews," he advises.

According to experts, job interviews are a critical aspect in selecting the right candidate for the right job. First impressions at interviews are normally formed during the first three to five minutes of the interview. Other than the qualification and skill sets, employers also look for candidates who represent positive values and attitude.

Hence, parents need to give their children the opportunity to prove that they are the right candidate for the job someone who employers think will add value to the company and will be an asset.

Ultimately, the candidate needs to be independent and confident, so it is crucial for parents to give their children more room to develop and present those qualities, says Shamsuddin.

"Not tagging along with their grown-up children for job interviews would be one of the first steps that parents need to take," he says.

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Issue of hovering parents


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